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Anime fans know that every year there is one series that stands out. Everyone loves it and because of that, everyone also hates it. It is the greatest anime ever (that year) and that makes it cool to trash it. I can go on and on about that but it is for another discussion. The anime that fit into that spot back in 2012 was called Sword Art Online. The premise of being stuck in a virtual reality MMO was not new, but SAO blew people away with its story and characters. The popularity led to a series of games that began in 2013 with Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment. It is worth mentioning that the games follow an alternate timeline that branches off from a point after Kirito defeated Heathcliff. Though you will see similar characters, those more familiar with the anime, manga or light novels might be a little confused. This is a different story and it progresses from Infinity Moment all the way up to our current title, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization. As a fan of the anime, it is important for me to know that in order to experience this story with an open mind.
It is probably a good idea to have familiarized yourself with the story of SAO before playing Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization. You are given some brief history, but this game assumes that you know these characters and what they have gone through. Kirito and Asuna were asked to beta test Sword Art origin, a brand new VRMMORPG based heavily on Aincrad. For survivors of the Aincrad tragedy, SAO has become known as “The Death Game.” It took a lot of thought for them to accept the invitation to this new world of Ainground. It took just as much or more to convince their friends from SAO to come as well.
Having confirmed that this new world allows players to log out and that this is not another death game, Kirito and his friends are excited about Ainground and playing Sword Art Origin. After all, this is the world that brought them all together; actually being able to enjoy it is a promising idea. Kirito is still a bit skeptical about things but chooses to keep it to himself at first. His reasoning is solid: the moment he logs into the game for the first time he receives an anonymous message that says “I’m back at Aincrad.” At the same time, he sees an NPC staring at him through the crowd. She speaks something to him but disappears before he can reach her.
The narrative of Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization comes off as highly enjoyable to me. It follows the formula of the original story arc, giving our heroes a mystery to unravel. The concept of them not being trapped in Ainground further strengthens the story because our characters are choosing to come back and learn more about Premiere and her situation. Having cutscenes of the same quality as the anime serves to further motivate the player to see this tale develop. The only drawback is the dialogue. There is so much talking in this game. That is standard in a JRPG, but instead of being part of the aforementioned animated scenes, most of the talking is accompanied by still shots and scrolling text. The first hour of the game has less than ten minutes of gameplay. Fortunately, if you are used to conversation-heavy JRPGs, it will be far from intolerable.
† A review code was provided by Bandai Namco PR